Posted by: draknor | July 11, 2011

Symptoms vs Problems

There’s an important decision we must make when faced with something that’s just not right.  Do we treat the symptom — the feeling, the pain, the effect?  Or do we address the root cause, the real problem at hand?  Or can we do both? Or should we?

The truth is — I had a pretty ugly weekend, overall.  I was very emotionally unstable — I had a fight with my girlfriend that lasted late into the night on Friday, for really no reason (other than I was feeling irritable).  Thankfully, she had plans to attend an out-of-town bachelorette party Saturday night through Sunday afternoon, so she took off and I was left to my own devices.  I was still mad when she left (as was she, I later learned), but we each found ways to get past the anger.  For her, it was socializing with friends (new & old), a great dinner and a fun evening of entertainment.

For me, the first thing I tried was going for a run — a nice 4 mile out & back on a hot & humid day. It was tough and I was slow (37:22), but that kind of physical exertion can really rearrange you body chemistry, at least temporarily!  I felt much better after the run. After cleaning up, I met up with some of my friends for dinner, and then joined others for a charity screening of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Serenity. That was great! I felt relaxed, I was having fun — life was good again!

And then I drove home late that night and just had this immense feeling of loneliness and missing my girlfriend, knowing she wouldn’t be there when I got home.  I stayed up too late, surfing the internet and just generally avoiding the one thing I probably needed at that point (sleep).  Sunday I just felt irritable & moody. It was hot & humid; I tried napping in the afternoon but couldn’t fall asleep.  Went to another movie just to get out of the apartment until my girlfriend came back.

So what’s the point of all of this? The feelings (anger, irritable, moody, good, fun) were symptoms, and the events (running, socializing, going to movies) my attempts to “treat them” (some successful, some not).  It wasn’t until later Sunday evening that I finally decided what must be the root cause of all of this — my body chemistry being out of whack.

You see, earlier this year I was diagnosed with hypothryroidism. In a nutshell, that means your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone to keep all of your body’s processes (particularly related to metabolism & energy) running the way they should be.  The standard treatment is to taking synthetic thryoid hormone.  I had just started the medication a little over a month ago and on my last day of work, had stopped in for a blood test to see how I was doing. I had improved, but still had a fair ways to go to get to “normal”, so my doctor increased my dosage. Combine that with a fun weekend of partying with friends & family for the 4th of July Independence Day (aka “Independence Dave” in honor of my mini-retirement) weekend, loss of routine (no longer going to work), and then more exercise in the previous 3 days then I had done in the previous month — and maybe, just maybe, my body was going through some physiological re-adjustments that might be impacting my mood.

There’s really not much you can do to address a root cause like this in a short-term manner — but what you can do is treat the symptoms with appropriate measures that are appropriate for the long-term solution.  What’s that mean?  It means, knowing that my body chemistry is a bit out of whack right now, what are things I can do to help feel better when I’m feeling cranky & moody? Exercise is a great one — I know that works for me, and its also just generally good for my body.  Alcohol is a great example of what NOT to do — it’s a depressant, and would probably exacerbate the feelings I was having instead of changing them.  I’ll save the spirits for when my own spirit is a bit better!

Its tempting to just treat the symptoms when they appear, and leave it at that.  But to really improve your life, that’s not going to work.  You have to dig in and figure out what the real problem is — only then can you figure out what the best solutions are, short-term AND long-term.